Monday, April 19, 2010

Kids & Poetry Class

As part of Poetry Month, I agreed to teach two sessions at my beloved local library of what I call Poetry 101. Notes piled up on my desk, books consulted, on-line sites perused, an agenda forwarded for copying, 15 copies made, ahh, five teens signed up for the first session, good to go. NOT! The teens, it turned out, were not teens; they were pre-teens disguised as sunny-faced little girls. Once their mothers left them, they tore off their disguises and became whirling pinwheels. Seated in office chairs that spin, they spun. They giggled, they turned their faces to the wall. One played a variation on the ignore-the-visiting-poet theme and stretched her arm on the table, then lay her head on her arm. She reminded me of my puppy when he's bored and waiting for me to put on my walking shoes. All the materials I had packed along were useless. One of the moms scanned my carefully selected books meant to show the variety of places one could find good poems to read. "Oh, she hasn't any Shel Silverstein here!" Well, duh, I expected older folks who might already be ready for other material.

Fortunately, I got a look at the attendance list a few minutes before the first participant arrived. I snatched back and hid the fifteen copies of our agenda. No way was I going to lead off with the first few lines of "Howl" and launch into a discussion of how we got to where we are in American poetry. No way was any information on publication useful. I did manage to squeeze some juice out of Shakespeare's wonderful description of poetry from "Midsummer Night's Dream." And let's be fair:it wasn't the kids' fault that they were kids, so I mustered as much patience as I could, gave them what I thought they could use, tolerated most of their fidgeting, at least until the second time one of them shot her hair scrunchy across the room. Then I did promise, with a strained smile, that if that happened again, I would confiscate the scrunchy.

As we wrapped up, I asked what each would take away from the afternoon. One girl was most intrigued to learn the origin of the term chapbook, said now she wouldn't embarrass herself in conversation by making up some far fetched origin. Oh, well. Then I asked what they would want to do differently if we ever met again as a group. The twirliest girl, the one with the scrunchy, said she'd only come back if I were not so "picky." I looked her right in the eyes and asked, without a smile, "Would you have learned anything if I hadn't been picky?" Well, no, she admitted. Then I smiled. Then I packed up my books. Then I went to dinner with friends and suggested that if I ever in the future mentioned teaching poetry to teens, they were to please, please, lock me in my room till the impulse died.


Anonymous said...

Ah, scribbling teens! Actually they're my favorite age to teach poetry because once they get over needing to rhyme and be cool, they can write the freshest, most original poems and prose. I've taught teens lots in a fine arts camp or pull-out setting, where they come pre-motivated by their own desire to write. Generally, I ignore the twirly stuff and take advantage of their kinetics to surprise them with non-classroom activities that involve moving or using the senses. Once they're hooked on their own writing, they're ready to read real poetry to find out how it's done!

Hope this is useful for future forays. Still, teens are a tough crowd, sometimes.

KD said...

I have such a fear of losing their attention that I don't ever relax the way I do teaching adults or older kids. Then again, when I was working as a nurse I avoided pediatrics. I am glad there are those like you who do a good job with those kids. It is very important. If we had more poets and fewer politicians, the world might work differently.